Best of Luck, Father Andy

On Palm Sunday, the former priest at my parish, Father Andrew Corona, announced he was retiring from active parish life. Our Bishop, Donald Hying, accepted his request for early retirement.

Father had been the priest at Nativity of Our Savior in Portage for about eight years. Last year, he moved on to St. Thomas More in Munster to serve in an associate pastor’s capacity, a byproduct of the health issues that led to his early retirement.

Over the past 10 years, Father Andy has battled a number of physical problems that have slowed down the once active guy. But it isn’t the physical ailments that will be my most lasting memory of his time at our church.

About halfway through his time leading our parish, father started suffering those various physical woes. On top of that, his beloved father passed away, a combination of events that led him to a deep emotional hole. So much so that he eventually stepped away from his duties, checking himself into a facility in Maryland to deal with his mental health concerns.

He returned last year from that facility, but not to resume his work at our parish. Merely, it was to say goodbye. In his farewell homily, he talked openly and honestly about the issues he dealt with and the work he still needed to do on the road to recovery. It was a tremendously moving admission to the parishioners who had come to know and love him over the course of eight years.

In retrospect, I shouldn’t have been surprised. A few years earlier, before he stepped away, I had accompanied my youngest son on the eighth-grade trip to Washington, D.C. Father also joined us, as he did every year.  Travel was one of his many loves.

But the bubbly priest who had been an active presence on previous trips to D.C., particularly when the trip took the kids to more spiritual places, was not our traveling companion that year. He was, instead, rather listless, engaging neither the kids nor adults much. Frequently, he didn’t leave the bus when we reached one of our destinations. I though it bizarre at the time. But when he delivered his homily and talked about his issues and the effect it had on him, I recognized immediately the man he was describing.

Too often, mental health remains a taboo topic. We can share every detail of a broken arm from a car accident or a scar from a surgical procedure,  but the injuries that happen in our minds are still somewhat off limits to discuss openly. That father was able to deal so candidly about his issues required tremendous courage, and I can’t help but think there was at least one person in the church that day who will benefit tremendously from his forthright description of his troubles. That someone who might otherwise have ignored his or her issues will instead seek the necessary help. If he accomplished nothing else during his time at Nativity (which most certainly wasn’t the case), that would still be one heck of a legacy.

Father, here’s wishing you the absolute best in retirement.

Off the Path: 5

This blog, at least for the time being, has largely involved church buildings. In 2021, and maybe even a little before, that will change, as I deal more with the people I meet and the works they’re doing.

But in this space between reaching out to parishes for research and the actual visits, it’s been mostly devoted to me stopping in various churches for some quiet reflection before getting back on the road. On Monday, I had quite a bit to reflect on.

I was on the road home from visiting my college daughter when I was alerted via text from a friend about the situation in France. My friend, a non-Catholic, was lamenting the fire raging at Cathedrale Notre Dame de Paris, as visiting the great church had been one of his “bucket list” items.

A short time later, I stepped into St. Joseph Church in Monroeville, Ohio. While there, and even now, I couldn’t help think about the church I wasn’t in.

Notre Dame is not just simply a building where Catholics attend Sunday Mass. Its reach, as my friend demonstrated, goes beyond Catholics. Beyond Christians, even. And it makes sense. There is value in the beauty contained within. Of the history the church has witnessed. Of the place it holds in the hearts of Parisians, so These things do matter, and I think most of the world was elated to see so much of its interior, and its relics, survive the conflagration.

It is been a terrible month for places of worship around the world. Something evil led a disturbed young man to torch three black churches in Louisiana, a crime that not only deprives those Christian families of their church, but delivers a stark reminder of a time of horrific racism, violence and intimidation was the rule, and the law routinely looked the other way. And while Notre Dame’s fire captured the world’s attention, a similar fate was befalling the Muslim holy site, Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem, at the exact same time.

But as we reach the holiest time of the year on our Christian calendar, we can still take comfort in the presence of God, whether looking upon a worship site ravaged by fire, or sitting alone inside a small darkened church in small-town Ohio. Because He is in all of these places.

Off the Path 4

A few years back, I had a brief fling with a blog I found called McMansion Hell. The site is designed and maintained by a young woman, Kate Wagner, who was a writer who studied architectural acoustics from Johns Hopkins University‘s Peabody Conservatory.[4] That’s noteworthy for two reasons: my son is a soon-to-be-graduate of Hopkins, and Peabody is the name of the Hopkins library that is one of the most gorgeous libraries in the universe.

I have never been a student of good architecture. But I am a glutton for good writing, and Wagner absolutely qualifies. Thus, I followed her blog for awhile as she torched the all-so-common McMansions, not for their ostentatious displays of wealth (though there was some of that), but more because of how they badly they often strayed from good architectural design. Traits such as balance, proportion and symmetry help define a well-designed building.

The faux pas that seemed to be the most common among designers of these suburban palaces is mixing design styles, most notably reflected in windows of varying shapes and sizes. That is an architectural no-no.

Which brings me to St. Cecilia, a mostly rural church located in Northern Kentucky, just outside the larger towns of Florence, Covington and Newport. I think Kate Wagner would have been quite pleased with the design work here. The church is beautiful inside and out. The arch is the overarching design trend, with series of three arches on display all over the church — at the altar, above the entrance to the church and with the windows. To my still-novice eye, it all flows together in a wonderful way.

X: A Fine Spot

As a father of three children ranging in ages from 16 to 23, I have spent a considerable amount of time on college visits over the past six years. That’s absolutely not a complaint.

But Monday, April 26th was a bit of a rarity. For only the second time, I was visiting a Catholic school, Cincinnati’s Xavier University. I was on the tour with Cormac, the youngest of my three children, currently a junior in high school.

In a lot of  ways, the visit was just like any other. The information session informed us about Xavier’s strong record of post-graduate placement, its wide range of clubs and activities and the school’s engaged and accessible faculty. The tour took us to the active campus center, the major athletic arena and the typical dorm room.

Yet, in two other ways, this tour was entirely new to me. First, our tour guide, the engaging San Diegan Nico, led us into Dr. E. Paul Colella’s classroom, where the professor was leading his class of 20 or so freshman in a conversation on Adam Smith’s ideas on the division of labor. In none of my previous college trips was I ever taken inside a classroom as class was in session. And when we were led out a few minutes later, I half-whined to one of the other parents, “But I don’t want to leave,” and she responded. “Me neither. This is so interesting.” Thanks Nico and Doc Colella.

The other way the trip differed from previous college visits related to its existence as a Catholic school. The information session guide discussed how Xavier follow the Jesuit traditions valuing both education and a commitment to social justice, which appealed to me immensely. And our tour stopped at Bellarmine Chapel, which you’ll see photos of below. It was refreshing to hear how the Catholic faith played such a strong part of campus life.

Though Cormac liked the school, I don’t know if Xavier will be where he winds up. But I do know this: I’ve decided conclusively I’d like to go there.

Xavier University’s Bellarmine Chapel.

Lent Begins

“It is a summons to stop, to focus on what is essential, to fast from the unnecessary things that distract us. It is a wake-up call for the soul.” Pope Francis

The past week brought me to Nashville for a work trip, with Ash Wednesday falling right in the middle of the three-day metals conference I was attending. Fortunately, I had no problem finding a parish for, as Father John Hammond noted in his homily, one of the most-attended Masses of the year.

The parish I found, St. Patrick in South Nashville, seems particularly fitting in retrospect. One of the older Catholic churches in the city, St. Patrick was founded as the home of Nashville’s Irish population in the late 1880s. It also became a popular spot for the country’s nomadic Irish Travelers. Members of that itinerant group of Irish-Americans would return annually for weddings and funerals, and have even contributed gifts to the parish through the years. So here I was, an Irish-American traveling to the small church for an evening service.

The Lenten season is upon us. May we heed Pope Francis’s words to use this time to return to the Lord. “The Lord is the goal of our journey in this world. The direction must lead to him.”

Off the Path: 3

For the past 13 years, I’ve been working in Oak Brook, Illinois. But other than my office and the occasional trip out to eat, I’ve done virtually nothing in the town or its surroundings.

With the launch of this project, I figured it was time to change that. So on a recent trip into the neighboring town of Hinsdale to stop at the local hardware store, I rerouted to St. Isaac Jogues Parish before returning to my office.

For those who don’t know, which is probably a scant few of you, Jogues was a native Frenchman who served as a missionary with the Native American population in North America in the 1600s. Originally considered a “living martyr” by Pope Urban VIII following a long period of captivity and torture by a Mohawk Indian tribe in 1846, Jogues nonetheless returned to the continent in 1842 to continue his work. He died a martyr later that year.

Off the Path: 2

Today’s stop takes us to the town of New Buffalo, Michigan, quite possibly the favorite place in the world of both my wife and me. New Buffalo is tucked just inside the southwest corner of Michigan, not too far from my home in Northwest Indiana. We usually go there at least twice a year for dinner, often, but not always, for burgers at the world famous Redamak’s.

But this time wasn’t a pleasure trip. I was heading back to my son’s school following another failed attempt to give blood (the Red Cross and I just haven’t been on the same page lately). With a little time on my hands and a full supply of hemoglobin coursing through my circulatory system, I stopped in at St. Mary of the Lake, just a few miles north of the Indiana line.

I stayed and prayed a little while, though my opportunities to wander and shoot some images were somewhat self-limited, as a fellow church-goer was sitting quietly in prayer at the front of the church, and I didn’t want to intrude. Still, I got a few shots of the church, sitting right on U.S. 12 in this wonderful lakeside town.